Interpretation of California Probate Code Section 6452
Probate Code Section 6452 states:
"If a child is born out of wedlock, neither a natural parent nor a relative of that parent inherits from or through the child on the basis of the parent and child relationship between that parent and the child unless both of the following requirements are satisfied: (a) The parent or a relative of the parent acknowledged the child. (b) The parent or a relative of the parent contributed to the support or the care of the child."
Two cases have interpreted the acknowledgment requirement in section 6452, subdivision (a). In Lozano v. Scalier (1996) 51 Cal.App.4th 843, 848, the court rejected the contention that the acknowledgement must be a witnessed writing made after the child was born. "There are no such requirements on the face of the statute. Nor does the history of the statute compel a conclusion that such requirements should be read into the statutory language. ... We may properly assume that if the Legislature had intended to impose a requirement that the acknowledgment be in writing, signed in the presence of witnesses, or made after the birth of the child, that the Legislature would have said so." (Ibid.)
In Estate of Griswold, supra, 25 Cal.4th 904, the Supreme Court affirmed a decision of this court interpreting section 6452. After noting that "acknowledge" is nowhere defined in the Probate Code, the court resorted to the common meaning of the word as defined in Webster's New World Dictionary (2d ed. 1982) at page 12, and Webster's Third New International Dictionary (1981) at page 17, as follows: " 'To show by word or act that one has knowledge of and agrees to (a fact or truth) ... or concede to be real or true ... or admit.' " (Griswold, at p. 911.)
The Supreme Court held the acknowledgement requirement was met because the stipulated facts showed that the decedent's father admitted paternity in a court proceeding. The court found significant the absence of evidence indicating the father did not confess knowingly and voluntarily, or that he later denied paternity or knowledge of the child to those who were aware of the circumstances. Although the record established that the father did not speak of the decedent to his wife and other child, there was no evidence suggesting he sought to actively conceal the facts from them or anyone else. The court concluded: "Under the plain terms of section 6452, the only sustainable conclusion on this record is that father acknowledged decedent." (Estate of Griswold, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 911; see also Estate of Baird (1924) 193 Cal. 225, 276 "A distinction will be recognized between a mere failure to disclose or publicly acknowledge paternity and a willful misrepresentation in regard to it; in such circumstances there must be no purposeful concealment of the fact of paternity".)
The Griswold court also held that section 6452 should not be read to require that a father have personal contact with his out-of-wedlock child, make purchases for the child, receive the child into his home and other family, or treat the child as he does his other children. (Estate of Griswold, supra, 25 Cal.4th at p. 917.)
In Estate of Griswold (2001) 25 Cal.4th 904, the court interpreted Probate Code section 6452, a section closely related to the statute we construe here.
Section 6452 is the converse of section 6453, subdivision (b), entitling a parent to inherit from an out-of-wedlock child if the parent can show that he "acknowledged" the child during his lifetime. The Supreme Court reviewed the issue as one of law. (Griswold, at p. 907.)
In Estate of Joseph (1998) 17 Cal.4th 203, the court interpreted another closely related provision of the Probate Code, section 6454, on undisputed facts. Section 6454 entitles a foster child or stepchild to inherit from a deceased foster parent or stepparent if the foster parent or stepparent establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the foster parent or stepparent would have adopted the foster child or stepchild but for a legal barrier.
Regarding the standard of review, the court held that the existence of a "legal barrier" was a question of law reviewed independently because "it resolves a pure question of law, viz., the meaning of the provision in question." (Estate of Joseph, supra, 17 Cal.4th at pp. 216-217.)
The court then held that the probate court's finding that the petitioner failed to establish by clear and convincing evidence that the decedent would have adopted her but for a legal barrier was reviewed for substantial evidence. The court said: "It resolves a mixed question of law and fact that is nonetheless predominantly one of fact, inasmuch as it 'requires application of experience with human affairs ... .' " (Id. at p. 217.)